Don't Ask, Don't Tell

09/23/2010 09:33 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Madeleine M. Kunin First Female Governor of Vermont; Marsh Scholar, University of Vermont

The Senate vote against the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," was more than a repudiation of equal rights for our gay and lesbian citizens; it was downright unpatriotic.

I know we in Vermont have high expectations on this subject, having been the first state to create civil unions ten years ago and more recently, we were the first state to give legislative approval to legalize gay marriage, even over-riding a Governor's veto. Since then, the majority of Americans have come a long way. Vermont is no longer alone. Polls indicate that 57% of Americans believe that gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve openly in the military.

Still, why not let people serve their country when they are eager and qualified to do so? The argument that allowing these men and women to be open about their sexual identity might weaken our military strength does not stand up under scrutiny. Rather, the opposite argument is more credible--we are losing thousands of talented people with special skills, like translators, which undercut our military capability. Besides, when have lying and secrecy been highly regarded values in this country? That is exactly what we force these gay men and women to do in order to retain their right to serve under"don't ask don't tell."

It's hard to take seriously the claim that military preparedness would suffer if "don't ask, don't tell" were repealed when both Secretary of Defense Gates and Chairman of the Join Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mullen, have supported it.

Susan Collins, who voted for the repeal in Armed Services Committee, voted against the bill when it came to the Senate floor with an impassioned speech about procedure. It is difficult to accept that excuse when no Republican voted for the bill--once again falling into the lock step of Republican opposition to any Democratic or Obama initiative--regardless of the merits of the legislation. We've seen this video before.

Republicans and anti-gay groups can claim a short term victory by defeating this measure. It is a pyrrhic victory which will haunt Republicans when the light of history will shine on them. This is a defeat, not for Democrats, who will rally to this cause once again, but it is a defeat for what this country should stand for--to permit every citizen the equal right to serve his or her country without having to wear a virtual burka to cover their own identity.

That, to me, is un-American.

Madeleine M. Kunin is the former Governor of Vermont and was the state's first woman governor. She served as Ambassador to Switzerland for President Clinton, and was on the three-person panel that chose Al Gore to be Clinton's VP. She is the author of Pearls, Politics, and Power: How Women Can Win and Lead from Chelsea Green Publishing.